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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

New York’s congestion pricing plan will worsen air pollution and traffic in New Jersey, new class action says

It's the second lawsuit from New Jersey challenging the new congestion pricing plan.

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — New York’s congestion pricing plan was ultimately designed to push commuters towards public transit options. But according to a class action from Mark Sokolich, mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, the new scheme will cause more harm than good.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey against the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Manhattan Transit Authority and other transit agencies and officials, Sokolich claims that the new pricing plan was approved without considering its potential consequences on the State of New Jersey.

Set to start in spring of 2024, New York’s congestion pricing will charge between $9 and $23 per day for drivers passing through Manhattan’s central business district, south of 60th Street, during peak traffic hours. Sokolich claims that drivers will take the George Washington Bridge to skirt the new fee, which will bring more noise and air pollution to New Jersey residents living nearby. The George Washington Bridge connects Manhattan to Fort Lee.

As a result, Sokolich is seeking a fund to help accommodate the “increase in traffic in Bergen County and the surrounding area, exacerbating noise and air pollution, the stress to New Jersey’s mass transit infrastructure, and the deleterious health impact to New Jersey residents living in the vicinity of the George Washington Bridge and feeder roads.”

The lawsuit defines two classes for certification. The first is the “Inconvenience, Traffic and Expense Class,” which includes New Jersey residents who will have to take the George Washington Bridge to avoid the new toll. Those residents will “be faced with increased traffic in their neighborhoods resulting from others [sic] drivers avoiding the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels” due to the new toll, the suit claims.

Some of those residents will now face “significant overcrowding and delays” on New Jersey’s own public transit system, Sokolich alleges, as it will see a plethora of new riders without any upgrade to the system.

The second defined class is “The Asthma/Respiratory Distress Class,” which includes all New Jersey residents “who will be subjected to increased air pollution” as a result of the new toll. One of those residents is explicitly named as a plaintiff in the suit: Richard Galler, a Fort Lee resident who “suffers from Asthma which will be exacerbated by the increased traffic causing pollution.”

The government didn’t consider the harm it could cause to these two groups before passing the new rule, Sokolich claims. 

Wednesday’s lawsuit isn’t the first challenge of New York’s new congestion pricing plan. Back in July, the State of New Jersey filed a similar suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and federal officials.

In that lawsuit, New Jersey state officials claimed the federal government approved the project before conducting a “comprehensive” environmental review of its effects. That earlier suit is explicitly referenced in the new one from Sokolich.

“As set forth in the Complaint filed by the State of New Jersey, the FHWA’s FinalEA and FONSI were inadequately prepared, and failed to consider the safety and well-being of neighboring states greatly impacted by the congestion pricing scheme by failing to provide an Environmental Impact Statement,” the suit from Wednesday says. 

But John J. McCarty, the MTA’s chief of policy and external relations, sees the lawsuit as nothing more than faux outrage.

“It’s Gottheimer Groundhog Day,” McCarty said in a statement to Courthouse News, poking fun at Fort Lee’s Representative Josh Gotteheimer, D-N.J. “And—shocker—he wants to send more traffic and more pollution to New York. News flash: Manhattan is already full of vehicles, and we don’t need more carbon emissions. So congestion pricing needs to move forward for less traffic, safer streets, cleaner air and huge improvements to mass transit.”

In addition to the relief fund, the plaintiffs are seeking a judicially mandated review of the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the program.

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Categories / Courts, Environment, Regional

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